Some 200 Hezbollah rockets and missiles (NYT) fell on Israel Thursday, in spite of a new, more forceful effort to take and hold ground in southern Lebanon. With diplomacy stalled and major international actors largely silent, Israeli ground forces thrust further into Lebanon (BBC), engaging Hezbollah fighters deep inside the beseiged nation.
Diplomatically, efforts to win agreement on a UN Security Council plan continued behind closed doors, and reports suggest the gap between the European and U.S. positions closed a bit (LAT). The European Union issued a cease-fire demand stripped of earlier language that advocated "an immediate cease-fire," something Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists will not happen until Israelis are able "to live in safety and security" (NPR). Instead, the August 1 EU crisis meeting produced a call for a phased halt to the fighting (Reuters). Even so, European and Arab public opinion appears united in the belief that a cease-fire must precede any deployment of international peacekeepers.
Muriel Asseburg, a Mideast expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, argues disarmament of Hezbollah—one of Israel's avowed goals—can only be achieved by political means (PDF). France, tipped to lead such an international force and the author of a draft peace plan circulated at the Security Council, insists no such force can be organized prior to a cease-fire (Toronto Star).
The United States, meanwhile, is fighting world opinion that blames Washington—and to a lesser extent London—for failing to restrain Israel. President Bush's assertion that "Israel is exercising its right to defend itself" is not widely shared abroad. Julia Choucair, an expert on Lebanon at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tells CFR.org's Bernard Gwertzman that after initial scorn for Hezbollah from some Arab governments, there has been a clear shift towards condemnation of Israel from Sunni leaders in the Mideast. Gerald M. Steinberg, an Israeli expert on military and diplomatic affairs, says Israeli policy aims to destroy Hezbollah and ultimately to force the United States to confront the greater menace: Iran.
Robert Fisk captures the more general outrage over war in a furious column in the Independent, writing, "This slaughter was an obscenity, an atrocity—yes, if the Israeli air force truly bombs with the 'pinpoint accuracy' it claims, this was also a war crime." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged Monday to work toward a cease-fire and agreement on an international peacekeeping force by week's end, but analysts suggest her job may be very difficult with the United States seen as having lost its claim to being an honest broker in the region (CSMonitor).